Yesterday Dylan called me. I knew from the second I heard his voice that something was bothering him. “So…what’s up honey?”… “Oh, I don’t know…I think I’m failing at Life”
I was immediately concerned – what had happened for him to have such a harsh evaluation of himself and his life – all nearly 22 years of it? The conversation continued & it turned out that he’s “pretty positive” he had failed a unit at university. I had a quiet smile at the oxymoron – positive failure.
I breathed a breath of relief. Was that all? When I thought back on all the things that were disastrous failures in my life – including one marriage – I could have really withdrawn from the world…but I didn’t. Even my first marriage, which I knew was going to be a mistake and was, I still view as a learning experience and of course, I had Dylan. Of course I reassured him that everything would be okay & helped him look for some of the positives in the situation.
This phone call then lead to me to think about Resilience …What is it that makes certain people more resilient to set backs – that ineffable quality that allows some people to be knocked down by life and come back stronger than ever?
I know that set-backs and disappointments happen to everyone and in every phase of life – love, family, work. I know how disappointment makes you feel – anxious, fearful, angry, confused, hopeless and doubting yourself. How do you move from these emotions to those of acceptance, hopefulness & optimism?
Resilience means adapting to adversity
I read somewhere that at minimum, we need a 3-to-1 ratio of positive to negative experiences, not just to build resilience, but also to thrive, be optimally productive and enjoy our lives. Psychologists agree that some people seem to be born with more resilience than others. But they also say that it’s possible for all of us to cultivate more of it. The key is adjusting how we think about adversity. This is how I deal with it.
Always look for the silver lining. Find something positive in the situation – even if it’s a case of “at least I didn’t have this other problem”. I used to say to myself, “It could have been worse”…and then proceed to come up with a list of dreadful things, some completely ridiculous that could have happened instead of what did. Our brains are naturally wired to notice the negative. We need to consciously look for, notice and appreciate the positive things that happen in our lives.
Live to Learn and Learn to Laugh. Look at every disappointment or setback as a challenge and an opportunity to learn. Look at the problem and ask – what is the solution? What can I learn from this? What was that trying to teach me? Laughing in the face of adversity can be profoundly pain relieving, for both the body and mind. Laughing releases endorphins of well- being, which gives you a better chance to look at a situation in a more objective, less emotional way. When Dylan was young I used to encourage him to laugh if he started showing the frustration of not being able to do something….like when he first rode his bike without training wheels. Inevitably once he started laughing – everything seemed so much easier to do. My list of “worse things” sometimes were so imaginative that I had to laugh at their ridiculousness.
Have a sense of purpose in your life. For me – teaching provided a chance to make a difference & I just had to believe that I was making that difference even just to one student. It was what motivated me intrinsically…because it certainly wasn’t the pay! I also wanted Dylan to grow up with a broader view of the world than his local neighbourhood so whenever possible I travelled to different places with him and really tried to experience the country (no 4 or 5 star hotels for us!).
Be kind to yourself – in all ways. Be healthy, get enough sleep, do fun things with family, indulge (not over-indulge) in the things you enjoy, stress less (not always easily done, I know). I really enjoyed snow skiing and tried to plan a trip skiing at least every 2 years. This kept me motivated to keep healthy & fit (although I have to admit that I didn’t stop smoking completely until recently). I really got into Tai Chi which helped me centre myself and I was much calmer for it. Nurture caring & supportive relationships with others. Hugs always help.
Have a plan or a goal and work on problem solving. Sometimes I used to look at a problem I had in the past and try to come up with alternative ways of solving it. It helped me to isolate the actual cause of the issue and address just that. It allowed me to identify things that needed to change and make a plan to help that goal be achieved. When Dylan was a (typical) teenager & I worked full-time, he was made responsible for his own washing. The situation had been the bane of my life – whole Saturdays wasted; spent washing & hanging & folding clothes that had been sitting inside on the floor of the cupboard for weeks. when the washing was being done…My solution not only made him more independent, lessened my stress over wasted time, but also made him grateful for what was done for him & increased my sense of appreciation when he offered to help me with my washing.
I’m very proud of the person my son has become, and like all mothers would love nothing more than for his life to be a bed of roses. But I think – he needs to have the thorns as well to appreciate life and build his own resilience to all her lessons.